Any city, whether metropolitan or provincial, includes grand streets and squares. This is where guidebook travelers go first, either on their own or carefully guided by guides. Rome is the same, especially if you choose to explore the Trastevere district.
But being different from European cities, it is possible to start a tour of Rome from almost every neighborhood. If you get the impression of being on the set of a classic movie about Italian life, waltzing through narrow streets with garlands of flowers and freshly laundered laundry against a backdrop of temples of stunning beauty, this points to the Trastevere district – the most romantic and picturesque area of the Eternal City!
Trastevere in Rome
The city includes the former suburb on the eastern slope of the Janiculum hill. It was formerly inhabited by the Etruscans, and later:
- foreigners from all over the Old World
It was incorporated in the 1st century AD, under Octavian Augustus.
Comparatively quiet in comparison with the busy city center, this area attracted the attention of Roman patricians. On its territory appeared luxurious villas. Two centuries later Trastevere was protected by the powerful wall of Aurelian. Its impressive sections have survived to the present day.
Just Trastevere in the 3rd century was enriched with one of the oldest Christian basilicas in Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere. A square with the oldest surviving fountain was built in front of the church.
At the same time, in the Middle Ages, the neighborhood was a living picture for the lecture “Rome – the City of Contrasts”. Low-rise shacks on the narrow streets, as if dried up from old age, were located next to many temples, estates of aristocrats and villas of bankers and courtesans.
It was not until 1473 that Pope Sixtus IV ordered the reconstruction of the Aurelian Bridge, which had collapsed at the end of the 6th century. After that, there was no need to worry about how to get to the area directly.
In the near future, the winding streets were also paved, and new fountains were created to supply the area with drinking water. Among them was the famous Turtle Fountain in the square near the Mattei Palace. In the 19th century, the Garibaldi and Palatino bridges were built.
Trastevere in Modern Times
The modern neighborhood of Trastevere in Rome is curious because, despite the multiple attempts at reconstruction undertaken in the 17th and 19th centuries, the overall appearance of the neighborhood remains almost the same as it was a few centuries ago.
The people who inhabit Trastevere are also special, with the gift of not being upset by small things. And what else is there to do when life passing among the concentration of shanty towns, albeit steeped in history, is already not very happy?
1. In the movie “Trastevere,” created back in 1971, one of the characters describes the residents of the neighborhood this way: “an antique people who know about everything and understand everything, who have experienced and forgiven everything and everyone.”
2. “Our life is only a quarter tragic, the rest is comedy” – this perl belongs to the greatest Italian comedian Alberto Sordi, who was born in Via Sant’Cosimato.
3. “Life is beautiful, death is disgusting,” is the epitaph on the tombstone of musical performer Claudio Villa, a native of Zatibria and four-time winner of the Sanremo Festival.
What Monuments and Legends the Neighborhood of Trastevere Has to Offer
There are many architectural monuments in the area and many legends associated with them. The following temples of Rome have survived to this day:
- Santa Maria in Trastevere 3rd century
- Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and San Crisogono 5th century
- San Pietro in Montorio and San Andrea IX century
- San Cosimato 10th century
They are partly, of course, restored and rebuilt, but have preserved a number of material evidences of the ancient layout. It could not have been otherwise, since the history of the early Christian world is essentially the history of Rome.
Santa Maria Church
For example, the walls of the gallery at the entrance to the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, rebuilt in Early Gothic style in the early 12th century, are decorated with carefully preserved slabs of an early Christian basilica with ornamentation and marble tablets dotted with inscriptions in Latin.
According to legend, it was built on the site of a former house of contempt, near which an oil fountain, recognized by the Romans as a jewel, gushed at the end of the first century BC. The first Christians considered this place miraculous and the fountain a symbolic finger on the coming of the Savior.
In the church itself, besides the stunning late thirteenth-century mosaics by Pietro Cavallini, you can look at:
- a 6th-8th century icon of the Virgin Mary
- the bishop’s throne from the 12th century
- tombs from the 12th to 18th centuries, etc.
The church houses the relics of the holy popes Callistus I (3rd century) and Julius I (4th century). The Baroque colonnade of the arched nave of the temple includes 22 columns from the Roman Forum and from the Thermae of Caracalla.
Not far from the temple is the Corsini Gallery. It exhibits works by:
- van Dyck;
- Canaletto, etc.
The National Academy of Lincei was formed back in the early 7th century.
Santa Cecilia Church
The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere was built in the 5th century right on the site of the house of St. Caecilia of Rome, who was martyred in the 3rd century. In the 16th century, the saint’s incorrupt relics were moved from the catacombs and placed under the altar of the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, decorated with frescoes by Cavallini.
San Pietro in Montorio
The former monastery of San Pietro in Montorio, on the Janiculum Hill, was built, according to legend, on the spot where the Apostle Peter was crucified. At the beginning of the 16th century, the complex was completely reconstructed by Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. This reconstruction was the first famous work of the genius Bramante. He designed the round chapel of the monastery following the example of ancient Roman temples.
Now San Pietro in Montorio houses the Spanish Royal Academy, which houses masterpieces by Sebastiano del Piombo, Mazaccio, Peruzzi, Vasari and Raphael.
Raphael’s name is also associated with the world-famous legend of the Trastevere district, the legend of the artist’s meeting with Margherita Luti (Fornarina). Around 1508-10 he was working on painting the interiors of Villa Farnesina (then the villa of Agostino Chigi). And one wonderful day he noticed in the window of one of the neighboring houses a girl combing her hair.
It is believed that Fornarina became the prototype of the “Sistine Madonna”, “Donna Velata” and many other works by Raphael, created by him just before his death in 1520.
Local guides even now with dignity show travelers “that very window”. The Villa Farnesina is still adorned with the priceless fresco “The Triumph of Galatea”, the characters of which, according to some art historians, bear a certain resemblance to the beautiful baker.
How to Get to Trastevere in Rome
Are you not interested in the masterpieces of architecture, sculpture and painting that abound in Trastevere? The Porta Portese, Rome’s largest flea market, is worth a visit.
The market is open on any Sunday. It stretches from the Porta Portese gate (for whose glory it is named) at the crossroads of Via Trastevere and Nieve through the entire neighborhood to the Trastevere train station. This station can be reached from Termini Station by suburban train or bus H.
It is possible to reach Trastevere:
- on the Fabricio and Cestio bridges over the island of Tiberina;
- or the Sisto (Sixta) Bridge from Palazzo Farnese in the Regola district to Piazza Trilussa in the Trastevere district.
The Garibaldi and Palatino bridges are more convenient for motorists who already know the area quite well.
Once you’ve figured out how to get to Trastevere, you need to think about how to leave the neighborhood. It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of its streets. Independent orientation is possible only by squares and temples. But there are no less than 4 dozens of temples in the neighborhood. And the squares are more like typical crossroads. The main thing is to try to get to one of the bridges.
There’s no need to hurry, no one in Trastevere is in any particular hurry. Even the turtles on the fountain in Piazza Mattei symbolize, as the old-timers believe, the local motto – “hurry slowly”.
However, the inhabitants of the neighborhood only consider themselves to be true Romans. At the same time with a slight bewilderment looking at the bustle around the ancient monuments on the opposite bank of the river.
And because the place in history of these “direct descendants” is already guaranteed, they apparently have nowhere to hurry.